Apologetics Helped Me
The study and practice of Christian Apologetics hold a place near and dear to my heart. Apologetics was one of the primary means by which God strengthened my faith and called me into ministry. Like many others, I remember having seemingly countless conversations in college about my Christian faith. I recall discussing many of those tough issues that college students love to spend time talking about.
I also remember being ill-prepared to give an answer for the reason for my hope (1 Peter 3:15). I just “had faith,” whatever that meant. I’m sure I couldn’t have told you even that much. The things we talked about in college were not quite on the level of asking if God could create a stone too heavy for him to lift (Dr. Ronald Nash would later tell me the answer is “no.”). But we did deal with very practical questions about Christianity, especially as it relates to other belief systems. And as I mentioned, I was an unprepared Christian.
A Great Miracle in My Life
God, however, used that to perform one of the great miracles in my life. He used those discussions to get me reading books… those strange and alien things I had worked hard through college avoiding having to read. Yet the questions I remember wrestling with my senior year of college, the ones I had no answers for, really begin to bother me. God used that restlessness to lead me (even compel me) to start reading (of my own accord) for the first time in my life. I first began reading a book on world religions and cults by Josh McDowell. I next remember buying and reading a book on this strange new “thing” called Christian apologetics by a writer I had never heard of called, Norman Geisler.
Thus began my journey and near obsession of reading apologetics, worldview, philosophy, ethics, etc. I started seeing Christianity as a world and life view and not a piecemeal and compartmentalized religion. I started understanding Christianity as actually true and not merely a choice on the buffet table of religious and philosophical selections.
More Work Required on My Part
One of the things I learned in the years that followed was that much of the time, all I really needed to “defend the faith” was simply a better knowledge of what I believed. This moved me to start digging into the study of God’s Word, as well as Christian doctrine and theology. The rest, as they say, is history. God used the study of Christian apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith) in my life to drive me to a deeper understanding of the essential truths of the Christian faith, as well as how to I might learn to communicate those truths more effectively.
I’ve discovered over the last three decades as a pastor that there are very few new questions being asked. Many are simply the same questions that have been asked for millennia but being asked in new and different ways. And each time such a question is asked, it must be taken seriously and answered lovingly, graciously, and winsomely, for it may be the first time the questioner has asked it. There’s no room for condescension in these moments of engagement.
My mentor, Ken Boa, told me while I was in seminary that it’s okay to be asked a tough question by someone and not have the answer with which to reply to them… the first time. However, he reiterated that I should never be asked the same question twice or three times without having an answer. In other words, being “stumped” once is virtually a rite of passage. Being stumped by the same question twice is a no-no. That means, I must do the hard work, study, and be prepared for the next time I hear the question. I have tried to put that principle into practice.
A Foot in the Door
What I’ve tried to do over the years is to use those tough questions as opportunities to get back together with the person who asked me the question, attempt to answer their question, get to know them better, and use the opportunity to share my faith with them if they are not a Christian, or to disciple them if they are. I have learned the hard way that the worst thing one can do when asked a tough question is attempt to bluff an answer. First of all, it doesn’t work and secondly, folks respect your honesty.
Having said all of that, I need to be clear about something: There are indeed some very hard questions about the Christian faith. There are deep and tough questions that relate to evil, other religions, science, the Bible, just to name a few. By God’s grace I’ve also learned there are some very bright and gifted Christian thinkers who have thought through and prayed long and hard about those questions and what God’s Word has to say about them. These very capable apologists have written extensively on most, if not all of those issues, and many have written helpful books and maintain useful websites.
After 30+ years as a pastor serving the local church, I’m still hearing great questions and having wonderful conversations with people who are honest seekers, and who are looking to get to know God and go deeper with him.
I hope to share more in the weeks to come about Christian apologetics. It’s a vast academic discipline and the practice of it by Christians at home, in the workplace, classroom, community, etc., is not only commanded, but much needed in today’s world. Hopefully much of what I share will serve as a help to you as you prepare to give an answer for the reason for the hope you have in Christ.